(Reuters) – Peter Malnati birdied the final hole to grab a one-shot lead after the opening round of the Bermuda Championship on Thursday in the first PGA Tour event to have fans since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Malnati made nine birdies, including five straight over a scorching stretch around the turn, and one bogey for an eight-under 63 at Port Royal Golf Course in Southampton where fellow Americans Doug Ghim and Ryan Armour were one shot off the pace.
For world number 166 Malnati, who finished runner-up to Sergio Garcia nearly four weeks ago in Mississippi, his opening score marked the third time in his last three starts where he shot rounds of 63 or better.
“My strengths that have kept me on Tour for as long as I’ve been here have been wedges and short game and putting and I’ve worked hard to make sure that those are still sharp,” said Malnati, who has one win since joining the PGA Tour in 2014.
“I’m starting — my long game’s starting to click a little bit and get a little better, so that definitely is what’s going on here right now.”
Doc Redman, who holed out for eagle from 94 yards at the par-four 15th, was among a group of three players sitting two shots back of Malnati.
The Bermuda Championship is allowing a maximum of 500 fans at Port Royal for each tournament day, making it the first PGA Tour event to have spectators since the Players Championship in March was cancelled after one round because of COVID-19.
Defending champion Brendon Todd, looking to become the first player to successfully defend a PGA Tour title since Brooks Koepka at the 2019 PGA Championship, offset four bogeys with four birdies for an opening even-par 71.
Some of the notable names in the field are former major champions Stewart Cink (66), Padraig Harrington (67), Danny Willett (67), Henrik Stenson (69), Jason Dufner (71).
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Toby Davis)